Saturday, January 28, 2012

Uncooperative Intestines

Exactly one year ago, I realized something was wrong with me. A friend and I went to pick up some lunch before our second-to-last performance of the show we were in, but I noticed that I still felt weirdly full. I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast that morning (which was most likely a bowl of oatmeal, or an omelette).

But it was lunch time, and I needed to eat something before my long afternoon. So I had a minuscule bowl of chicken and dumpling soup. Immediately afterwards, the fullness feeling intensified. I felt like I had just finished a Thanksgiving dinner!

After the afternoon show, we had a little over an hour before we had to be back for the final evening show. I was still full, even after the intense dancing, but once again I thought I had to eat something. So I made a small salad.

When I thought about it, I realized I had noticed these feelings throughout the entire week, but they seemed to be getting worse. I knew no other way to interpret these feelings than, "I'm eating too much." Why else would I feel full all the time?

Unfortunately, this caused a period of several months in which I continued feeling more and more full, consumed less and less, and lost more and more weight. It wasn't until the end of March when my aunt made a comment to my mom about my Facebook pictures that I realized something was horribly wrong.

(FYI: No worries, I have since gained that weight back.)

I told my mom about how I thought I had been overeating because I always felt full. I spent a long time on Google, and when I found several sites stating that a feeling of fullness is a symptom of ovarian cancer, we made a doctor's appointment.

The doctor actually laughed when I told her my suspicion. She eventually sent me to the GI specialists, the thyroid specialists, etc. Everything they tested came back negative, which means I ate radioactive scrambled eggs for nothing. ;)

It's been a year, and as I write this post, I am feeling incredibly, miserably, frustratingly full after eating a nutritious and delicious bowl of oatmeal an hour and a half ago (and you've seen my oatmeal recipes, so you know they are a perfectly reasonable portion size). You'd think I would have gotten used to the feeling by now, but it's just as frustrating as ever. Sometimes, I become so disgruntled that I sincerely believe the only solution is to fast for the rest of my life, but then the voice of reason tells me to eat through the pain.

As you can imagine, this problem is especially annoying to a food lover like me. I will often be in the kitchen preparing an elaborate meal for dinner, and I'll sit down with something like this or this (which were both amazing, by the way), and I'll still feel full from LUNCH. But I have to eat anyway.

But this weekend, my mom and I figured it out. It's my IBS. Duh.

What particularly baffles me is how none of my doctors could come up with a solution this obvious. Instead, they scheduled me for appointment after appointment to perform upper endoscopies, elaborate x-rays, blood tests, ultrasounds--y'know, all the things that help them make lots of money.

So I've identified the problem, but what's the solution? I'm already doing all the steps to reduce my symptoms (small but frequent meals, exercise, high fiber, no caffeine, etc.), but it's still affecting me. This must stop!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Best Day

I have had the best day ever. Well, kind of. But it does really seem like things are going my way today.

I started my day off right with some fun and delicious Choconut Oatmeal.

For lunch, I made linguini with my homemade tomato sauce and lentil balls, with a salad consisting of baby greens, grapefruit segments, raisins, sunflower seeds, and a raspberry-lime-coconut vinaigrette.

In the afternoon, I dragged myself to the wellness center. I really didn't want to be there. But after just 2 laps of running, I suddenly felt great. I knew I was going to run more than a mile. Gleefully, I ran a mile and a half...which sounds anticlimactic, but not if you consider that I haven't run more than a mile at a time since high school. I was considering continuing to two miles, but then my lungs really started hurting, so I wimped out. :)

Then I went to my beloved grocery store, which I actually haven't been to for nearly two weeks! And wouldn't you know it? They've expanded the health market section. And guess what one of the many new products is? A blend of almond milk and coconut milk. I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP. I was so excited that I opened it up as soon as I got to the car and took a swig. Such an interesting flavor! It begins with that typical nutty flavor I know and love, but then it hits you with the coconut. Bam!

Soon, it was time to make dinner. I had purchased all the ingredients to make this fantastic shredded brussels sprouts and apple salad...including the tofu. I really hate tofu. Or at least I thought I did. But then I read somewhere that if you tried tofu and didn't like it, it's because it wasn't prepared right. So I decided to give it another chance.

Um, this salad is possibly the best thing I have ever made (although I'm not sure it could beat my chili...or roasted butternut squash and kale pizza). I have been allllll about interesting salads lately (check out my Pinterest board!), but this one just blew me away. Charred, flavorful, sweet from the apples, crunchy from the almonds (I used sliced almonds instead of pine nuts), and.....that TOFU. I caramelized mine by sauteing it with olive oil, salt, garlic, and blackstrap molasses. It was crisp and sweet and smokey and wonderful...and it didn't taste anything like that dreadful sponge in the package!

Let me make this clear: if you've tried tofu and didn't like it, it's because it wasn't prepared right.

And then, just because I was so delighted with the world and needed some dessert, I made a glass of pina colada soft serve, with just three beautiful ingredients: frozen bananas, frozen pineapple, and coconut milk. And gosh darn it, it was the perfect ending to a great day. It was super healthy, yet it tasted far more rich and decadent than a brownie, or my mother's amazing baked cheesecake.

I tell you, my friends: clean eating is a blast and a half.

Choconut oatmeal

One of my favorite things about adopting a more healthful diet is that it taught me to try new foods. My diet used to consist of various combinations of potatoes, ground beef, corn, and Campbell's Condensed Cream of Chicken, with occasional doses of Cheetos, Lucky Charms, and Toaster Strudels. Anything beyond that, I hated. If it didn't taste exactly like something my mom made, I would turn my nose up.

Opening my mind to all foods has really helped me embrace all flavors and textures. Many foods that I hated five years ago have now become some of my favorites.

One food in particular has really captivated me lately: coconut. I had always hated it. I hated german chocolate cake because of the coconut. I hated Samoas because of the coconut. I hated coconut cream pie because of the coconut.

Perhaps it was Malibu (and Pina Coladas) that helped me acquire a taste for it, but I've lately been coconut crazy. I bought some coconut milk yesterday to make this coconut quinoa salad for dinner--which was beyond delicious--and this morning I used it to create this chocolatey coconut oatmeal. Or, as I like to call it, Choconut Oatmeal. :)

Choconut Oatmeal

  • 1 c coconut milk
  • 1/2 c old-fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 1 tbsp. flax or chia (optional)
  • 1 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp. chocolate or carob chips (I used Nestle dark chocolate)
  • shredded coconut (I didn't have this, so I skipped it)

1. Bring coconut milk to a boil. Add oats and flax, and reduce heat to medium. Stir frequently.

2. After several minutes, add the cocoa powder. You could also use chocolate chips here instead, but I wanted to keep the added sugar to a minimum, so I used cocoa powder. It takes a little longer to mix in, though.

3. When the oatmeal is done, transfer to a bowl and top with chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and another splash of coconut milk. As you can see from my picture, I stirred half of my chips in and then added the other half on top. 

I rarely have oatmeal with no fruit. To compensate, I followed up this beautiful bowl with a gorgeous grapefruit (so much alliteration!). I always aim for 4-6 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thin Mints Oatmeal

I have a love-hate relationship with bananas. In general, I kind of hate them. I rarely eat them plain; their taste and texture make me gag a little if I'm not in the right mood. On the other hand, they are just wonderful. They are a natural sweetener, super cheap, and versatile. I can put them in sandwiches, smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods, which is why--despite my on-and-off hatred of them--I almost always have some on the counter.

The fruit I have available typically dictates what kind of oatmeal I'll make for breakfast. For the most part, I mainly switch back and forth between apple cinnamon oatmeal and banana bread oatmeal, but sometimes I get creative. This was one of those mornings.

I had one banana left on the counter, and it was looking pretty sad and close to death. I was much more in the mood for apple cinnamon, but that banana demanded my attention, and soon. Begrudgingly, I began cooking the oats and mashing the banana.

But then I had the idea: mint chocolate chip. Why not? It's not just an ice cream flavor, after all. The Girl Scouts proved that mint chocolate chip makes an excellent cookie as well, and anything that makes a good cookie will also make a good oatmeal. That's my theory, anyway.

How does a banana fit into the equation? Just like I used it for my lemon poppy seed oatmeal, the banana sweetens the oatmeal, and it also bulks it up both literally and nutritionally! Because of the strength of peppermint oil, you most definitely will not taste the banana. Which is exactly what I wanted that day. No banana.

I was surprised by how much I liked this oatmeal. It was somehow refreshing and hearty at the same time!

Mint Chocolate Chip Oatmeal (or, "Thin Mints Oatmeal")
  • 1 c of milk, water, or a combination (I use half water and half almond milk)
  • 1/2 c Old-Fashioned Oats
  • 1 tbsp. milled flax (optional)
  • 1 mashed ripe banana
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. peppermint oil or extract
  • 1 tbsp. dark or semisweet chocolate or carob chips
1. Bring your water/milk mixture to a slight boil. Add the oats and flax and reduce heat to medium.

2. Mash up your banana so no chunks are left. If you don't mash it enough, you'll end up getting tastes of banana during your mint chocolate chip experience, which is not ideal. Once it's all perfectly mashed, add to the pot.

3. Wait until the oatmeal has thickened up, and then stir in the cocoa powder. Stir, and watch your oatmeal transform into fudgy goodness. Next, add the peppermint oil and stir again.

4. Serve the oatmeal with another splash of milk, and then sprinkle some chocolate chips on top.

You could also top it off with other mix-ins, like nuts or shredded coconut. I left mine plain.

Aaaaand now I really need to do some homework. :)

**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mint chocolate chip "ice cream"

My favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip. Sadly, I cannot remember the last time I had it. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I bought ice cream. 

I never made a conscious decision to avoid ice cream; my body just did it naturally. Whenever the option was presented to me, my digestive system practically sobbed in horror. It got out its iPhone and sent some fiery tweets to my brain, forcing it to imagine the inevitable gutache that would result from those few scoops. Like this:

@stomach: @brain Don't do it. You'll regret it.
@brain: @stomach Dude, back off. I'm not afraid of a little dessert.
@stomach: @brain Don't eat the ice cream.
@brain: @stomach But it's really good!
@stomach: @brain You know what's NOT good? Being imprisoned in your bathroom with upset stomach, having post-dessert regret. 
@brain: @stomach It won't be that bad...
@stomach: @brain ...remember last time?
@brain: RT @stomach Don't eat the ice cream.

So you can imagine the joy of both my brain AND stomach when I discovered a digestion-friendly alternative to my beloved mint chocolate chip. 

I've been eating "frozen banana soft serve" for at least half a year now. Even though it's an amazing alternative to ice cream, I sometimes got sick of the banana taste (note: in some variations, you can't taste the banana at all! I'm just too cheap and lazy to invest in other ingredients). That is, until I bought myself a spiffy bottle of peppermint oil.

I blend some frozen banana slices with whatever milk I have on hand (almond, soy, coconut, rice) and a few drops of peppermint oil. Then I stir in a small handful of dark chocolate chips. And voila! Mint chocolate chip " ice cream" that doesn't taste like bananas OR make me miserable for hours afterwards!

A rather liquidy version, right after blending. You can make it thicker by using less liquid (if your blender
 can handle it) or placing it in the freezer for a short time.
Here are my other favorite mix-ins for banana soft serve:

- a spoonful of peanut butter and a dash of cinnamon (works well as a green smoothie as well)
- half a teaspoon of jam and a drop of almond extract
- coconut milk and frozen pineapple (a creamy PiƱa Colada!)
- berries and almond extract
- berries and chocolate chips

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Motivation and Anxiety

Today, I attended my very first yoga class. Our wellness center offers all classes for free on the first week of every semester, so I knew I had to take advantage of this. I've always wanted to attend a yoga class (it's on my bucket list!), but I always used the cost as an excuse to avoid the anxiety of trying something totally new. This time, I had no excuse. It was just me and my anxiety.

For the past several weeks, I had been saying I was going to go to as many classes as I could this week to try everything out. Now that the week is here, I've been piling up excuses left and right.

But I'm done with that. I hate that quality in me. I need to be brave, flexible, adaptive, and fearless. If I ended this week without going to one single yoga class, I would never have forgiven myself. So I kicked my butt all the way to the wellness center this morning and just did it.

So I guess you could say I'm really proud of myself. :) Several times throughout the class, I would smile and think to myself how ridiculous it was that I was afraid of ever being there. Even if I went by myself and knew nobody, it didn't matter. Yoga is a personal, reflective thing. You never really have to feel self-conscious about not knowing what you're doing because it's such an intricate and self-centered form of exercise that nobody has time to see what you're doing. They're too busy perfecting their own positions, focusing on their own breathing, or meditating in their own minds. They don't give a crap if your knee isn't perfectly above your ankle.

I've been dealing with motivation a lot since the end of the Semester from Hell. And I don't mean motivation like, "Get off the couch and do something productive!" I mean it in a bigger sense, like "Figure out what you want in life, and work toward it. Don't let fear stop you."

I'm getting tired of the bitterness and jealousy I experience when I witness other people's awesome lives on Facebook. I have friends/acquaintances studying abroad, getting internships in California, finding careers in Florida, and going on vacation in Colorado, the Caribbean, or New York City. I'm tired of it because I know that I could have those things, too...if I just stopped doubting myself and letting my anxiety win.

I really hate running. But I tell myself, "If Micaela can run a marathon, I can most certainly run a mile."

I freak out on the first day of big life changes. But I tell myself, "If Katie can move to Nashville for an internship, I can most certainly attend a middle school within walking distance of my apartment, find the classroom I've already observed, and become better acquainted with a teacher I've already met."

The point is, I'm graduating this spring, and I know what I want--to move out of South Dakota. Preferably, to move out of the Midwest completely. And--just like with the yoga class--it sounds so fine and dandy when it's far in the future, but I know when the time comes, the anxiety will creep up on me. And I'll stick around, find a school nearby, and plant myself there for life. Then I'll watch other people's lives and be miserable that I was too scared to make my own dreams a reality.

Well, I don't want that to happen, so I need to practice getting out of my comfort zone and kicking Mr. Anxiety in the face. I found a great opportunity to get into an incredible teaching program in Boston (yes, Boston!). I'm going to pursue it. And I'll probably have a lot of anxiety about it, but that won't stop me.

Maybe this time next year, people will be bitter and jealous of my Facebook photos...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolutions and Tostadas

I was never one to make resolutions. Or, I should say, I was never one to follow through on them.

That changed last year when I decided to take on flexitarianism. I guess you could say it was a pretty successful resolution, considering I converted to vegetarianism at the end of August. I proved to myself that I can follow through on resolutions, as long as it's something that's attainable, something I value, and specific. For example, it's way easier to hold myself accountable to "Drink 5 glasses of water a day" than "Drink more water." The specificity of "I can't consume meat more than one meal a day" forced me to always challenge myself far more than "Eat less meat" would have.

Anyway...I've been considering these resolutions for months. I'm a planner like that. Naturally, I've considered a lot of food-related ones, such as "Lighten up on the peanut butter, you psycho," or "No non-organic soy." But ultimately, I decided to avoid those. As a perfectionist, putting myself under that kind of pressure can be a little problematic. Plus, my quest for good nutrition is a step-by-step journey. I don't believe I need any monumental "resolutions" to make them happen.

So without further ado, I present my resolutions for 2012: 

1. Exercise for 2.5 hours a week. It doesn't have to be intense, but it has to get my heart thumping! I'm not trying to burn calories or train for a marathon; I'm simply hoping to keep my heart and lungs healthy and vivacious!

2. Floss at least every other day. My dentist loves my teeth. Like, he loves them. Sometimes, I feel like he wants to turn my mouth into an art exhibit. He's always saying things like, "Beauuuutiful teeth.... Wow.... You have such excellent home-care... Beautiful.... Perfect...." I take great pride in my dental hygiene, to the point where I actually brush my teeth around four times a day. Yet I don't floss. That needs to change. I would commit to "Floss daily," but then I would give up if I accidentally missed a day. This way, I have wiggle room for mistakes.

I wanted to make more; I'm just full of ideas for self-improvement! But I knew I had to narrow them down and prioritize. These two alone will challenge me sufficiently.

So anyway, I've had a delicious start to 2012. I reheated my fantastic 3-bean and quinoa chili for lunch (I swear it gets better every time I taste it!), and I made a bean and avocado tostada for dinner.

I got the idea for the tostada from one of my favorite restaurants. It's usually made with a giant helping of iceberg lettuce, so I was excited to make it myself, using fat-free refried beans (which is apparently not fried in the question did they fry it? haha), a whole wheat tortilla, and organic spring mix.

P.S. Are you aware that "refried" is actually a mistranslation? These beans have not been fried twice, as the name suggests. "Refritos" literally translates to "well-fried," and not "refried."

Happy New Year!